Is SGPC trying to become a Sikh VATICAN?

by Feb 28, 2023Blogs0 comments

Punjab is forever in the news be it groundwater depletion, green revolution, drugs, prosperous NRI’s, violence, migration, conversions to Christianity and recent protest by supporters of Amritpal Singh.

An important part of society in Punjab is the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandhak Committee (SGPC). Have you noticed that it expresses a view on many issues as if it were a protector of Sikh panth? Here are some examples:

– SGPC president appealed to Sikhs to celebrate and observe all religious occasions as per the calendar released from the Akal Takht so that unity and uniformity was maintained within the community.

– SGPC has announced it will send a four-member delegation to Nankana Sahib in Pakistan to take stock of the situation following stone-pelting at the historic gurdwara.

– SGPC has asked the central government to review the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA), give Sikhs in Meghalaya ownership of land.

– SGPC warns of no Tattoos of Sikh religious symbols

– SGPC wants to set up censor board for films and ban portrayal of Sikh Gurus and their families in movies.

Without getting into the right or wrong of the above, as a born Punjabi I wonder if SGPC was originally meant to do this!

Nothing happens without a reason so need to go back a bit in time.

Let me start with a brief background to formation of the SGPC in 1925

Sanatan Sikhs were prominent in Amritsar and Tat Khalsa dominant in the Lahore Singh Sabha. A superficial unity between the two was achieved in 1902 when Chief Khalsa Divan was formed. It was a coordinating body for the Singh Sabhas. The differences between the two Sabhas also arose because one regarded the Panth as a special form of Hindu tradition whilst the other believed Sikhism was a different religion.

According to scholar/author W.H. Mcleod, “The Tat Khalsa progressively assumed complete dominance of Sikh affairs, introducing newly fashioned rituals, stressing Khalsa forms, and reinterpreting history.” The Tat Khalsa emerged victorious when “in 1905 Hindu idols were removed from the Harimandir.”

Although the Singh Sabha movement died out in the 1920’s, it awakened the Sikhs. They questioned why the job of a granthi (scripture reader) was done by members of the Udasi order (not followers of Khalsa) even though it was the practice since the Mughal times. Udasi began with Baba Siri Chand (son of Guru Nanak Dev and Mata Sulakhani Devi). Udasis are known for their renunciatory outlook as against Sikh belief in worldly activity. Udasi establishments do not fall under the control of SGPC.

The more radical elements organised a semi-military corps of volunteers known as the Akali Dal (army of immortals) to fight for SGPC causes. Its aim was to give expression to a revived sense of Sikh identity.

The Akalis took control of the gurdwaras after throwing out the mahants.

The success of these protests against Udasis produced two institutions that dominate Punjab – the SGPC and the Akali Dal.

The Akalis entered into a dispute with the British for the control of Sikh gurdwaras. In 1925, the Sikh Gurudwaras Act was passed. By virtue of its control over gurdwara affairs and revenue, SGPC became an important body.

The Akalis are yet to relinquish control of the SGPC since 1925. The Congress has been trying to gain control over it for decades.

On becoming chief minister in 1972, Giani Zail Singh tried his best to wrest control of the SGPC and used every opportunity to placate Sikh religious sentiments and assert Sikh identity. In order to regain the initiative, the Akali Dal Working Committee passed the Anandpur Sahib Resolution in 1973.

Since then this pattern of politics, competitive communalism and brinkmanship, has been the hallmark of Punjab.

Actually this mixing of politics and religion was started by Guru Har Govind (1606 to 1644), after the martyrdom of his father Guru Arjun, who hung two swords by his side signifying Piri and Miri, one symbolised spiritual power and the temporal (political). Practicing Sikhs also refer to the two swords as Bhakti and Shakti.

Piri/Miri worked well when the Mughals ruled but in 21st century Independent India!

Till the Aam Aadmi Party won in 2022 control of Sikh religious affairs, through the SGPC, was the key to political power in Punjab.

The Akali control of SGPC have made Jaat Sikhs a powerful community in Punjab although all the Gurus were Khatris. Nanak was a Bedi, Angad a Trehan, Amar Das a Bhalla and the rest were Sodhis.

Perhaps “Jaats resent that Khatris deprived them of the Guru gaddi. Baba Buddha, a Jaat, was made to do tilak of gurus but never assigned the supreme religious position,” says a scholar from Punjab. Jaat differences with Bhapas(Khatri-Arora Sikhs) also arise because Jaats see themselves as the original followers of Khalsa and Bhapas as later entrants.

A devoted Sikh laments, “SGPC definitions of a Sikh make Sehajdharis, Patits and non-Amritdharis second class Sikhs because they are unable to be elected to the SGPC management but are duty bound by its rules and expected to contribute money and labour (sewa).” A 2016 amendment disentitled Sehajdharis from voting in the elections of SGPC and managing committees.

Deeper Intent seems to make Sikhs follow the concept of One Book, like Abrahamic religions! Actually this concept of one book is alien to India. Indic faiths have multiple scriptures and are not mutually exclusive. India has nine schools of darsanas meaning nine ways to achieve self-realisation.

Theseare Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Sakhya, Yoga, Mimamsa, Vedanta, Carvaka, Jaina and Buddha. Others are a mixture of the ideas of these systems. There is no Hindu or Sikh school of philosophy.

In line with this exclusivist approach Sindhis of Indore were recently asked to remove the Granth Sahib from their place of worship.

The SGPC says that Sindhis are Sehajdhari Sikhs and activists of the Satkar Committee from Punjab alleged violation of Sikh Rehat Maryada. The problem is there are differing versions of who is a Sehajdhari Sikh.

Question – When was the Rehat Maryada created, by whom and why?

So why was the SGPC formed?

Surely control of Gurdwaras of Punjab was an important reason for its formation. Perhaps, another unmentioned reason was to cement the division between Hindus and Sikhs, efforts for which began around 1870. The British supported that effort.

So they allowed Sikhs to manage their Gurdwaras vide the 1925 Act whilst bringing Hindu temples under government control through the Madras Hindu Religious and Endowments Act 1927.

Next, the 1925 SGPC Act definition of who is a Sikh is a typical Singh Sabha/Akali/exclusivist/separatist/alienating view.

Pashaura Singh of Department of Religious Studies, University of California wrote in, “As a consequence of the success of the Tat Khalsa reformers, Sikhs in the early 20th century came “to think, imagine and speak in terms of a universal community of believers united by uniform rites, symbols and scripture.”

“The Singh Sabha ideologues employed Protestant categories of Christian missionaries to redefine Sikh concepts. As such, modern Sikhism became a well-defined ‘system’ based on a unified tradition and the Tat Khalsa understanding of Sikh identity became the norm of orthodoxy.”

“In a recent study, Arvind-Pal Mandair described the impact of colonial rule on the Sikh tradition as follows: “In the process of projecting themselves as a legitimate body in the public sphere governed by British law, the earlier principle of heteronomic sovereignty was overlain, and to some extent displaced, by modernist principle of autonomic sovereignty which was essential for converting the Panth into a nationalized community (or qaum) characterized by the notion of a people with its proper religion (Sikhism), their own language (Punjabi) and a geographical territory or homeland they could call their own (Punjab).”

It is this artificially created division that is a source of discord in Punjab. Many might disagree but i.e. the reality. A former diplomat who worked in Pakistan that Sikhs will take to violence if they fear loss of identity. Hindus have no intent to make Sikhs loose their culture and identity. If Sikhs look at Sanatana Dharma, through the lens of the Upanishads and not Puranas they might realize both are monotheistic. It is a Hindu nationalist government that gave shelter to Sikhs from Afghanistan!

Returning to the core issue, does the SGPC Act give it control over Sikh affairs countrywide?

I downloaded the SGPC Act (on 25.2.2023) from the site of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

SGPC administers, under the 1925 Act, Sikh Gurdwaras in the states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Union Territory of Chandigarh. Recently, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the Haryana Sikh Gurdwaras (Management Act) 2014. It means that SGPC has to handover the management of Gurdwaras to its counterpart in Haryana.

A reading of the bare 1925 Act shows that it is about management of Gurdwaras, elections to the management bodies and defines who is a Sikh. I was unable to find intent to make the SGPC a Vatican.

Thus, it would be worthwhile knowing the basis on which SGPC makes declarations w.r.t. portrayals of Sikh Gurus in Bollywood or no tattoo of Sikh religious symbols.

To conclude, those rooting for Khalistan must first establish their capital at Lahore since it was the capital of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Once done they can prevent flow of drugs into East Punjab.

Punjab is dying and needs surgery. It is very easy to blame others but difficult to look within and change. Prime Minister Modi seems to have a soft corner for the Sikh Panth. Hope the community takes advantage.

However, the Supreme Court seems wary of Punjab. A 2007 judgement of the Punjab and Haryana High Court held Sikhs not be a minority in Punjab when by population they are in majority and been ruling the state since it was formed in 1966. SC began examining the matter in 2016 according to this report. We are in 2023, order awaited.

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